Skip to main content

LA??? Issues in the Legal History of Race

This module will explore the role of law in the creation and evolution of ideologies of racial difference from the period of the Haitian Revolution and the ‘Age of Constitutions’ through to contemporary debates over reparations for slavery.

  1. Students will be able to demonstrate an advanced knowledge of legal, historical, and political ideologies of ‘race.’
  2. Students will develop an advanced ability to undertake interdisciplinary study and research.
  3. Students will develop enhanced key-skills including written and oral communication skills, problem solving, working independently and in groups, and broad research skills.
  4. Students will develop their ability to construct and substantiate comprehensive and sophisticated scholarly arguments in written and oral work.

The module will begin with an introductory week in which we will consider the fundamental question of “What is Race?” Noting the emergence of the category of ‘race’ in Enlightenment theory and during a period of rapid global capitalist expansion, I will introduce students to the notion that it is not possible to understand racial iniquities in the 21st century absent a long historical perspective.

Next, in weeks 2 and 3, we will consider race in the context of the Haitian Revolution and the ‘Age of Constitutions’. We will read the 1685 French Code Noir, the 1801 Constitution of Saint-Domingue, which abolished slavery but maintained the plantation system, and the 1805 Imperial Constitution of Haiti, under which all Haitian citizens were designated ‘black’ regardless of skin colour.

In week 4, we will consider the role of law and racial ideologies in the decline of Atlantic slavery in the 19th century. We will read legal texts including the 1807 British Slave Trade Act, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution of 1865, and Brazil’s “Golden Act” of 1888. We will consider these materials in the light of Frantz Fanon’s chapter, “The Black Man and Recognition,” in his classic text of racial existential protest, "Black Skin, White Masks", as well as the argument that the granting of freedom from slavery by colonial powers constituted a ‘horrible gift’ with long-lasting repercussions.

In week 5, we will consider the much maligned and misunderstood concept of négritude. We will read Aimé Césaire’s polemic, "Discourse on Colonialism", first published in 1955, alongside Gary Wilder’s recent work in which he argues that Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor had a radical vision for the world: decolonization without national independence, a political project that calls for a new legal framework of international solidarity.

Following reading week, in weeks 7 and 8 we will consider the question of racial injustice in the context of two case studies of so-called ‘natural’ environmental disasters: the 1927 Mississippi Flood and the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe of 2005. In these weeks, I will draw on the lectures and seminars that I delivered in the module “Disaster Law and Culture” (LA375) which this module supersedes.

In week 9, we will consider the American Death Penalty through the prism of race. We will read the 1987 US Supreme Court decision in McCleskey v. Kemp, which held that racial disparities in death penalty procedure amount to a constitutional violation of the right to equal protection under the law only if intentional racial discrimination against the defendant can be shown. In this week’s seminars and lectures I will call on the expertise of former Warwick Law School Death Penalty student interns. They will discuss their first-hand experience of capital defense legal practice, casting light on our group discussions and forming a bridge between our programme of academic study and the Law School’s Centre for Human Rights in Practice Death Penalty Internship scheme.

Finally, in week 10 we will consider the recent reemergence of debates over reparations for slavery. Our discussion of this topic will be informed by Alfred Brophy’s extensive work in this field in which he has mapped the cases for and against reparations, as well as outlining imaginative models of realistic reparations.

Throughout the module I will use an unusually wide variety of materials, including music, film, and interactive media, to encourage interdisciplinary and comparative thinking.

Assessment Method

1 x 60% (3,000 word) Essay and 1 x 40% Reflective Diary

Reading